South Carolina native Carlise Washington will never do many of the things in school that her classmates will because of her her developmental disabilities.
Thanks to the love of her family and support of her coach, however, the high school senior experienced something that made her feel more special than anyone on Saturday night.
She got to play in the varsity basketball game. Our affiliate WCIV News reports.
Carlise spends each day in gym class on "her" court, popping up shot, after shot. Ask her how much she loves basketball, and you don't need her interpreter to decipher the answer.
“I love basketball,” Washington signed Monday morning, with a big smile.
It’s something Perry Smalls, the girl's head basketball coach, noticed a long time ago.
“She is a special kid. I love her to death,” Smalls said. “I saw her in gym class the past 3 years. All she does is play basketball. Other kids play football or kickball, she always plays basketball. I saw it one day and I thought I'll give her a dream her senior year, to get on the floor and play with the basketball team.”
So months ago, Smalls put the wheels into motion.
He wanted to give her the full varsity treatment she'd always dreamed of. With a lot of planning, and little help from the opposing team, Coach Smalls made Carlise's dream a reality.
"When she came out with the team, she was hitting shot after shot,” says Carlise’s mom, Barbara. “The people were all yelling, ‘let Carlise play!’ She could see us clapping, see us yelling."
Then it was time for the introductions, and to announce the starting five.
“She was so excited. She ran out cheering, getting the crowd pumped up,” Smalls said of Washington, who is deaf and has Down Syndrome. “She couldn't hear them, but she can feel them and the reaction, and that was the most important thing."
Then, the whistle blew, and it was time for tip-off. Carlise took her spot in the front court. The Cougars got the rebound, and dished it to Carlise right of the lane.
"We jumped off. tapped it to her,” Smalls recalls. “She missed 2 shots, then hit the third. All net.”
For the girl unable to talk, the video of that moment is worth a million words.
“I was happy and excited to play with the team,” Carlise said of the experience.
It also was a surreal night for her mother, Barbara. A special mom who was made to feel like every other parent, if only for a night.
“I think as other moms know, if you have a child with disabilities, they aren't always accepted,” says Barbara Washington, who never thought she’d experience a moment such as Saturday’s for her daughter. “When she’s around other kids and they accept her, it’s a good feeling to be mom of a special needs child.”
Smalls says Carlise will be invited back to join the team on Senior Night, when she’ll get a framed jersey with her name on it.